By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Dill is a biennial that is most commonly grown as an annual. Its leaves and seeds are culinary flavorings but flowering will impede leaves while providing the zesty seeds. You need to decide which part you desire the most in order to promote a bigger harvest of that dill growth. When a dill plant has flowers, foliage decreases and the plant focuses its energy on forming a bigger seed head. Flowering in dill plants can be prevented if you wish to preserve the dainty foliage for seasoning.
So you say, “My dill plant is flowering.” This may be a good thing or a bad thing depending upon which part of the plant you use most often.
Hot weather will enhance bud formation and cause the plant to bolt, or flower. The flower signals the end of the plant’s life and the cessation of foliage production. It really depends which part you use the most when flowering in dill plants initiates.
If you are concerned about your dill forming a flower head, it means you probably use the lacy leaves most often for seasoning. You will notice as the head forms that the stem thickens and foliage becomes smaller and more sparse. This is because the plant is focusing on producing flowers, seeds and the reproductive cycle.
Why is my dill flowering? Plants that grow in hot regions will see this occurring early in the season, while plants in cooler regions will not flower until later in summer. The good news about flowers is that they lead to seed and, therefore, more future plants. Dill grows fast and you might be able to get another crop if you plant more seeds.
Bolting is a natural plant response when environmental conditions become less than optimum. The plant’s impulse is to produce seeds and preserve its genetics. In order to prevent the flower head for a time and encourage more leaves, you must literally nip it in the bud. This means pinching when you first see the beginnings of the small buds.
Pinching can enforce a larger, bushier, more compact plant and prevent it from starting to die back. Of course, eventually the plant will die and probably flower but you can extend the leaf harvest somewhat. If your dill plant has flowers already, pinching will likely not help, as the plant has already made the decision to leave this cruel world and leave behind its genetic memento.
The flowers will develop into pungent seeds, commonly used in canning and pickling. To harvest the seeds, let the flower turn brown and the seeds turn from green to tan. Snip off the head and hang it upside down in a dry, warm location to finish maturing.
When the seeds are ready, place the entire flower head in a paper bag. Shake the head vigorously into the bag, collecting the tiny oval seeds. Store the leaves in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool, dry, dark location – such as your spice cupboard.
Dill is best fresh and will gradually lose its flavor over time. It is a good idea to replace your dill seasoning annually to preserve that intense flavor. Fortunately, growing dill is quick and simple and the seeds you collect can be used to start the next season’s crop.
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Dill is a biennial warm-season herb, very sensitive to light-freezes and frost. Dill is not technically a perennial plant because a single plant only lives 2 years. It is quite proficient at self-seeding (if allowed). If left to grow naturally, A single dill plant should come back year after year. As a seed, it is used primarily for pickling (dill pickles). Seeds can also be ground or used whole to flavor meats, fish, eggs, cheese, and vegetables. Fresh leaves are often used in salads, soups, fish, eggs, and potatoes or as a garnish if you run out of(or get bored with) parsley. You can also make a marvelous leek and potato soup seasoned with dill.
Flowering annuals such as dill not only are tasty and edible herbs, but they add charm to a garden. Planting dill in your flower garden heightens its aesthetic atmosphere while at the same time protecting certain plants and vegetables. Companion planting is the art of selective plant and herb placement to mutually benefit its neighbors. Like other herbs and vegetables, some plants are benefited by dill while others are beneficial to dill. When laying out your plant or vegetable garden, learn how to use dill beneficially. It is not only an aromatic, attractive herb, but it makes a good companion to many plants.
Dill Companion Planting
Planting dill in your vegetable or flower garden will attract beneficial visitors and repel pests. In a vegetable garden, dill benefits members of the cabbage family, corn, cucumbers, members of the onion family and lettuce. Avoid planting it with carrots and tomatoes. Dill can be planted among flowers as well. Many of the same insects it attracts help with flowers too. Dill attracts wasps, hoverflies, tomato horn worms and honeybees. On the other hand, dill repels aphids, mites, cabbage loopers and squash bugs. Dill is also one of the few annuals that can be planted with fennel which should be avoided by almost everything else.
Where to Plant Dill in the Garden
Dill should be planted in full sun. The soil should be well drained, and because dill can grow to a height of two or three feet, consider what you plant next to it. Dill self seeds, so you can expect it to return next year provided the soil conditions are the same. Plant dill next to flowers of varying color. Its light green stem and yellowish green flowers contrast nicely with flowers that produce dark petals. If garden aesthetics are your main concern, sprinkle dill seeds in a variety of locations throughout your flower garden. Imagine a bouquet of flowers accentuated by sprigs of green leaves that allow the vibrant colors of the flowers to stand out. Dill serves a similar purpose in a garden, but it is also very aromatic.
The ideal time to harvest dill is when the weather is cool, usually in the morning. Cut the flower heads after they begin to go to seed, but be sure to let some complete the life cycle to reseed the ground. A dill harvest is another advantage of growing this herb. If you enjoy making pickles, grow plenty of dill. For each jar of dill pickles, at least two flower heads and several sprigs are necessary. Fresh dill can also be added to salads or other culinary concoctions.
Planting dill in your flower garden is both good for the flowers and aesthetically pleasing. Dill is an aromatic herb that attracts honeybees and other beneficial insects while repelling certain pests. Dill can be used for flower garden contrast, or it can be harvested and used in pickling or cooking. If you let some of your dill plants go to seed, they will self seed and regenerate themselves during the next growing season.
Dill has a long taproot and does best planted from seeds. Dill grown from transplant often bolts more quickly than dill grown from seed . If you plant transplants, choose young transplants and handle roots very carefully.
Plant dill seeds 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch deep . Thin seedlings to 4 inches apart. Keep soil moist until the seeds sprout.
Dill prefers rich, loose soil and full sun.
Broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and Swiss chard are good companion plants for dill. Do not plant dill near carrots.
For square foot gardening, plant 1 dill per square foot.
Bouquet dill has large blooms and seed heads. Excellent for pickling.
Dukat dill is darker green with large seed heads. Excellent for pickling.
Fernleaf dill is slow to bolt and good for growing indoors and in containers.
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Well, gardener, now that you have completed your education in all things dill, you could probably use a mug of that soothing and refreshing dill tea right about now. I know I’m ready for one!
Do you have any of your own dill-growing tips or recipes to share? If so, please let us know in the comments below!
And for more information about growing your own herbs and spices, check out some of dill’s fragrant relatives next:
Photos by Lorna Kring and Fanny Slater © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Burpee, Eden Brothers, and Nature Hills Nursery. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.